Last week I received my manuscript back from my editor with a list of requested revisions. Actually it’s not a written list/letter (what I used to receive when manuscripts were submitted and edited in hardcopy) but the electronic version of the ms with “comments” and “track changes” editing.
Some of the requested changes are because my editor fears readers won’t understand or believe what I’ve written.
Also, last week and this week, on email@example.com, several law enforcement officers (active and retired) and forensic experts have been commenting on revisions they’ve been requested to make in the books they’ve written. Editors have actually told these writers who KNOW what they’ve written is accurate that they were wrong. (Due to the CSI effect, law enforcement often find themselves having to defend actual situations when juries or readers argue that they know better…they’ve seen how it’s done on TV.)
So it doesn’t matter if I or the experts know what we’ve written is correct. If your editor (or a reader) doesn’t understand or believe what’s being said, it needs to be fixed or explained in a way that will make it sound reasonable or correct.
There are some words, terms, and colloquial sayings that I forget aren’t common everywhere. Usually all it takes is for me to substitute another word or write a short sentence to clarify the word(s). For example, in Michigan people often ask for a can of pop. Once I’d moved here from California, I quickly got used to using the word “pop.” It wasn’t until I started writing that I discovered people in other parts of the country used the word soda. Now my characters always ask for a can of soda.
Also, in Michigan, many houses have what’s known as a Michigan basement. (These are especially common in century-old homes.) My main character inherited an old house. She’s afraid to go down into the Michigan basement. (Since they’re simply a hole dug in the ground under the house that holds the furnace and hot water heater, they’re usually damp, have a musty, mildewey smell, and harbor spiders.) My editor lives in Canada. He has no idea what a Michigan basement looks like. He figures if he doesn’t know what I’m talking about, probably others won’t either.
And he’s probably right.
So now, in the book, I have a short description of a Michigan basement.
Also, I’m quite familiar with marinas in Michigan, but from a comment my editor has regarding one scene in the book, it’s obvious I haven’t described the setup well enough for him to see the marina as I do. Time for a rewrite there.
What the writers on the Crimescenewriter list have been saying is it doesn’t matter if you’re right. If your reader doesn’t understand what you’ve written or doesn’t believe you’re right, you need to rewrite it so they will believe it…or are willing to suspend belief.
So how do you make sure the majority of people understand what you’ve written?
Well, one think I’ve learned is don’t ask ONLY people who live in your area to critique your ms. Find someone who lives in another part of the country. They’ll, hopefully, pick up on the words and ideas that won’t be clear to everyone.